HC Deb 17 May 1978 vol 950 cc462-5
32. Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

asked the Lord Advocate what are the latest figures for delays in court hearings in Scotland for sheriff and jury cases, broken down into those awaiting preparation, those being prepared, those awaiting allocation of date for trial and those ready for trial on dates which have been fixed.

The Lord Advocate (Mr. Ronald King Murray)

I am arranging for current figures of sheriff and jury cases from the six regional offices to be published in the Official Report. These figures by themselves are not a measure of delay. Present indications are that outside Glasgow there are no significant delays in sheriff and jury cases. In Glasgow there are 17 cases awaiting preparation, in which the accused were fully committed in November 1977. There are no older cases in that category. It is estimated that all these cases will be under preparation by the end of June this year.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

Does the Lord Advocate think that the trend is in the right direction? Bearing in mind the statement of cases that he has sent me, is it not a fact that 500 cases in Glasgow are awaiting preparation or being prepared, and a further 300 are awaiting trial? Is there not a case for more procurators fiscal and more accommodation? Will the Lord Advocate consider this suggestion?

The Lord Advocate

The hon. Member has highlighted the problems in Glasgow. The latest figures show a slight drop in the significant figure, which is the first of those which make up the 500 cases. The two courts dealing with the backlog of cases are already making significant inroads into that backlog. I have the impression that this impact is not yet reflected in the figures.

Mr. David Steel

Is the Lord Advocate considering setting up special traffic courts in Scotland?

The Lord Advocate

This is a matter which has been considered and no doubt will be further considered in the light of the recommendations of the Stewart Committee, when these come forward.

Mrs. Winifred Ewing

Does the Lord Advocate agree that in Glasgow too many cases are put down for a sitting on the apparent logic that half of them will go away, fold up, or not proceed? Does he sympathise with witnesses, police and lay people, as well as the accused and their families, in view of the great wear and tear and inconvenience caused to them because of this fact? What are the arguments against fixed dates for sheriff and jury trials in Glasgow?

The Lord Advocate

On the latter point, I have every sympathy with witnesses and others who have to be present when the case begins. On the first point that the hon. Lady made, I am sure that she will be the first to accept that she has put the matter in a very simple way, and that in fact the problem is highly complex. It cannot be dealt with properly in an off-the-cuff answer. I stress that the problems involved are very much a matter for serious consideration by my Department and the Scottish Office.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Does the Lord Advocate agree that the situation in Glasgow is still serious? Does he propose to make another early visit there to discuss the position with those involved? Is he concerned about the number of postponed trials and all the problems that that involves for witnesses, and also the problems arising out of the substantial number of changes of plea?

The Lord Advocate

The hon. Member put a number of points to me. I shall pick out two of them. On the point about changes of plea, in a previous answer to the hon. Gentleman I put forward a view. It is a matter of interest that nobody has written to me since that answer suggesting that what I said on that occasion was wrong. There may be scope for further improvements along those lines.

On the matter of Glasgow, I stand by the answer that I have given already to the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing). Trying to improve the situation in Glasgow is a highly complex matter. We have made a real attack on it by having two new courts, which are making a significant impact on the backlog. We are increasing the staff of precognition officers, and accommodation will be improved. All these improvements should make a real impact on the figures in the next few months.

Following are the figures:

Regional Office Cases awaiting preparation Cases being prepared Cases awaiting allocation of date for trial Cases ready for trial on dates which have been fixed
Aberdeen 23 16 9 10
Dundee 11 1 10
Edinburgh 1 38 3 22
Glasgow 275 236 138 195
Hamilton 13 21 2 13
Paisley 39 5

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